The Ballad of the Summer Fest

Local promoters of High Sierra Music Festival and Outside Lands try to stay relevant. Plus a controversial hip-hop trio comes to Oakland.

We’ve officially entered the season of the summer festival, and with no shortage of them, concertgoers can be picky about where they spend their dollars. And they are. With so many festivals, especially during a downturned economy, local promoters are struggling to stay on fans’ radars.

“There’s a lot more festivals right now than there used to be,” said Rebecca Sparks, co-owner of the Berkeley-based High Sierra Music Festival. “There’s a lot of competition. As far as longevity goes, you have to create a niche and offer something that other festivals don’t have.”

High Sierra seems to be doing it right. The mid-size festival — now in its twentieth year — is a four-day, family-friendly camping/music festival held at the Plumas Sierra Fairgrounds in Quincy. The festival has put its money on drawing bands from various genres, though most appeal to the jam-band crowd. This year’s event, to be held July 1-4, features the biggest lineup yet, with The Black Crowes, Widespread Panic, The Avett Brothers, Ozomatli, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, Femi Kuti and Positive Force, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Lotus, The Mother Hips, and Carolina Chocolate Drops, among others.

Sparks says the festival’s longevity can be attributed to the fact that the organizers have built a community and welcome kids. “Our audience has grown with us,” she said. “We’ve got people who used to come in the Nineties in their twenties now with their kids.” Because of the length of the festival, bands often play two sets and camp on-site. Sit-ins and jam sessions are frequent, as are parades with giant puppets. There also are music, dance, yoga, and Pilates workshops, and storytelling and puppet shows for kids. “We really try to offer a really unique experience,” Sparks said.

Meanwhile, the promoters of the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival, which takes place August 14 and 15 in Golden Gate Park, cut the event back from three days to two and lowered ticket prices because of the state of the economy, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. While the music fest, now in its third year, started off with a bang in its inaugural year thanks to big headliners Radiohead, attendance shrank considerably last year — a difference of about 45,000 people (or about $4 million in ticket revenue at $90 per single-day ticket). This year’s single-day tickets have been reduced to $75, but sales have been slow. “We’re scared to death, quite honestly,” Sherry Wasserman, president of Berkeley-based promoter Another Planet Entertainment, was quoted as saying. Another Planet does have a permit to host a third night on Friday, August 13, but has so far been unable to score a big-name act. This year’s headliners include Kings of Leon and Further featuring Phil Lesh and Bob Weir.

Das Racist Plays High Tide Fest

Bi-coastal rap group Das Racist will be among the performers at an all-day music festival at Soundwave Studios (2200 Wood St., Oakland) on Saturday, June 26. The rap trio — Victor Vazquez, Himanshu Suri, and Ashok Kondabolu (aka Dap) — produced the Internet hit “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” in which they basically repeated the phrase I’m at the Pizza Hut/I’m at the Taco Bell/I’m at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Some called it brilliant; others said it was inane — of course, it was a bit of both. Go to for our interview with them.

Also performing at the event, dubbed “HIGHTIDE,” will be Dublin Death Patrol, Forrest Day, High on Fire, Lil’ B, New Earth Creeps, Nocando, Stone Vengeance, One in the Chamber, Nabahe & E.K., and others. 4:20 p.m., $20. Tickets at

Miscellaneous Debris

There’s a new rehearsal space in Jack London Square. Jack London Rehearsal features 34 rooms, 24-hour access, and is located next to its sister business, Sharkbite Recording Studios. Rates start at $650 a month. … Oakland’s Fort Gallery (683 26th St.) is holding one of its last shows on Saturday, June 26, with Polarbears, Namesake, and Shuteye Unison. 9 p.m., $5 donation. All-ages. … Absolutely Kosher will host a “Ye Olde Record Label Faire/Sunday Brunch” on Sunday, June 27, at its Emeryville headquarters (1501 Powell St., Ste. H). Nosh on bagels and pick up discounted records from 1-2-3-4 Go!, Absolutely Kosher, Alternative Tentacles, American Dust, Antenna Farm, Broken Rekids, Chocolate Covered, Gold Robot, Lefse/Waaga, Misra, Porto Franco, Prank, Ralph America, Seismic Wave, Slumberland, Three Ring, Tricycle, tUMULt, and Zum. 11 a.m.-1 p.m., free admission. … Sunny and the Sunsets have signed to Fat Possum for the release of Tomorrow Is Alright, which streets August 31. The band plays Bottom of the Hill on Sunday, June 27, before playing the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago on July 17. … We reported this last month, but now it’s official: SleepAl Cisneros, Matt Pike, and Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder — will embark on a short tour in September. They play the Regency Ballroom on September 12.

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